Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Prosper the work of our hands, O God; prosper our handiwork. ~Psalm 90

Matthew Crawford's Shop Class As Soul Craft - a book that convincingly makes the case that the work of our hands demands and reflects as much intelligence as that of our heads - reminded me, a Christian minister, that I serve a Lord whose story is tied up with the carpenter's trade, and that the first preachers of the gospel were fishermen and a tentmaker.

Ironically, the president of my seminary used to advise graduating seniors that if we had any useful skills we should not let our parishioners know about them, allowing ourselves to be thought of as helpless as babes, laboring piously in our studies with holy books as our only tools. Because of my aptitudinal deficits, this assignment has, unfortunately, been only too easy for me to fulfill.

My brother-in-law, a fellow Lutheran pastor, is, however, a skilled woodworker who has built custom homes, crafted a bed as a gift for each of his children, and patiently instructed me in the use of the scribe, the miter saw, and various wood finishes as we've worked together to build the cabin we share. (When our children were little, whenever I embarked upon a home improvement project they would chant, “Call Uncle Jeff!”)

The cabin has been and continues to be a labor of love (there’s no other way to put it) and, along with our other preacher brother-in-law who, as an old farm boy is handy in all kinds of ways, we have built it in a series of retreats that are a hearty organic mix of theology and sawdust.

I love discussing theology with these my brothers, but it's a much richer conversation when we’ve put down our hammers or saws or paintbrushes and we're sitting in a half-finished kitchen sharing a break from honest labor over a thermos of coffee.

“It is by having hands that man is the most intelligent of animals.” (Anaxagoras, 5th century B.C.)

Anaxagoras quoted by Mathew B. Crawford in Shop Class As Soul Craft, Penguin Press, 2009.


Jeff said...

"I wish they had never shown me how to use the copier."

Joseph G. Crippen said...

A wise pastor I worked with told me never to learn to run any machine at a congregation or you'll always end up doing it. Unfortunately my geeky need to know how things work overrode that and I know far too much about office machines!

Anonymous said...

I love it that you three preachers have labored in love over the cabin and its many projects. You guys make a great team, and I know Jeff and Phil have always appreciated your willingness to take charge of the coffee and donuts! CJ

Bill said...

Thanks for the book tip. I was pleased when someone observed that a carpenter in Jesus' time also did blacksmithing, since I am one now (post ministry). There was never any particular call for a pastor's skill at smithing, but I have learned the literal meaning of "having too many irons in the fire"! A valuable lesson for sure for pastors and lay people. Patience is also a valuable lesson taught by woodworking and smithing (well, probably all craft).

Richard Jorgensen said...

Thanks, Bill. One of the smartest and wisest men in my parish is a retired blacksmith.